The Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’ is a charming tropical plant with sizable, shiny leaves with trichromatic variegation. I adore the unique bronzed green mixed with bright splashes of coral, pink and cream. Unlike some of the other common household species in the Ficus family, such as the Fiddle Leaf Fig, Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’ care is simple as the plant is much less finicky and demanding.
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The term “ficus” refers to a genus of woody, shrub-like trees that happen to make excellent houseplants. This is mostly due to the fact that many species are visually interesting and resilient at the same time. One of the most popular ficus species today is the Ruby Rubber tree.
Hailing from the tropical region of South Asia, Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’ grows best in consistent, year-round conditions, so most owners choose to raise this plant indoors. The name refers to the plant’s leaves, which are green with pinkish-red striping.
Due to this variegation, this particular ficus species is prized for its ornamental value. If you’re a novice plant-keeper but still want to add a touch of elegance to your living space, a Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’ may be the perfect plant for you. This Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’ care guide will point you in the right direction so you can keep your plant looking healthy!
- Common Name: Ruby Rubber Plant, Variegated Rubber Tree
- Scientific Name: Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’
- Mature Size: up to 8 feet tall
- Sunlight: direct morning sun then bright, indirect afternoon sunlight
- Water: when top 1-2 inches of soil is dry
- Soil: rich, loose, well-draining
- Temperature: 65°F-80°F
- Propagation: stem cuttings and air layering
- Hardiness Zone: 10-12
- Toxicity: toxic to humans and pets
Growth Pattern and Habits
In the wild, a full grown Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’ plant can grow as tall as 40 feet! Fortunately, captive-raised specimens are expected to reach a maximum height of eight feet, making them an ideal, but still quite impressive, size for indoor life. In perfect environmental conditions, this plant grows at a fast rate, gaining about two feet per year. It also recovers well from pruning, so you can trim it down every spring if it gets too tall for your liking.
Pro Tip – When pruning, be sure to cut above a growth node. This will ensure that there is at least one growth node on a pruned stem from which new growth can emerge!
If all of its needs are met, your Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’ may produce a flower. The flowers grow in a spear-like shape and may appear pink or red with a small amount of green blended in. These flowers tend to be underwhelming, especially compared to the surrounding oar-shaped leaves. If you prefer, you can prune any flowers as they appear so the plant can continue directing energy to leaf growth.
As it grows in size, the Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’ requires repotting approximately every two years. You will know when it’s time to repot if the Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’s soil becomes loose, or if there are visible roots on the soil’s surface. You may also note a significant decrease in growth (given that all other signs point to a healthy plant).
When it’s time to choose a new container, look for one that is two to four inches wider than the original with holes for drainage. A mature Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’ can be large and unwieldy, so it’s recommended to tip the plant on its side to repot it safely.
Adequate lighting is extremely important to produce the striking colors of the Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’s leaves. Any room with large windows will easily meet a Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’s light requirements. Bright, indirect light is best, and dappled shade is acceptable. A spot directly in an east-facing window or several feet back from a south- or west-facing window is ideal. After choosing the right location for your plant, remember to rotate it every few weeks to ensure all sides of the plant receive a balanced amount of sunlight.
You can tell your Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’ isn’t getting enough light when its leaves look mostly green with little variegation. Alternatively, you can tell your tree is getting too much direct sunlight if you notice yellow or brown splotching on its leaves.
If your plant shows any of these symptoms, try changing locations until its condition improves. You can also try adding a sheer curtain to filter sunlight if your plant is getting too much sun.
The Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’ enjoys light moisture but will suffer if the soil is constantly damp. The best way to water this plant is to let the soil dry out a little bit since the last time it was watered. Before watering, test the soil with your finger to check the moisture level. When the top one to two inches feels dry to the touch, it’s safe to add water to your plant.
The Ruby Rubber tree is relatively forgiving when it comes to its watering schedule but remember that underwatering is much safer than overwatering. Overwatering will put the plant at risk of developing root rot. This is why you should always test the soil before watering your plant. If you’ve accidentally overwatered, you can air out the roots by poking a few holes into the soil with a clean, wooden chopstick or dowel.
The best soil for top notch Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’ care is a blend that is moisture-retentive and well-draining. A general houseplant soil mixed with a small amount of cactus or succulent soil is a great way to meet the plant’s moisture and drainage needs.
You can also try mixing in some coconut coir, pumice, or perlite instead of cactus soil to achieve the same results. If you’re in a pinch, general houseplant soil will work just fine, but you should cut back on your watering frequency if you go this route.
Temperature and Humidity
To maintain healthy growth, aim to keep your Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’ in the temperature range of 65-80°F. This plant is used to life in the rainforest where temperatures tend to stay moderate all year long. Therefore, exposure to extreme cold or heat can damage this plant and potentially cause it to become scorched or go into shock. This is the main reason why the Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’ is best kept as an indoor houseplant.
Along with warm, stable temperatures, this plant needs a moderately humid environment of 40-60%. If you live in a drier climate, you may need to provide additional humidity with a humidifier or pebble tray of water. You can also opt to lightly mist your plant once a week for more control over the amount of moisture your plant is exposed to.
Pro Tip – Before lightly misting your Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’, clean all the leaves with a moist cloth or dusting towel to remove the dust particles that build up over a week’s time. Doing so will decrease the chances of pests and improve your plant’s ability to photosynthesize!
It’s beneficial to fertilize your Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’ in the spring and summer due to its fast rate of growth. To fuel growth, apply a balanced liquid fertilizer diluted to quarter-strength every six weeks.
Stop fertilizing in the late fall and through the winter when the plant goes dormant. Dormancy causes the plant to stop absorbing nutrients from the soil, and adding more fertilizer during this time will potentially scorch the roots.
To propagate your Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’, harvest a few cuttings at a time to maximize the chances of success. Try to save this chore for the spring and summer when the plant is in its active growth phase and more likely to take root. To propagate a Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’, you will need sterile shears, gardening gloves (a must due to its irritating sap), rooting hormone, and a container of well-draining substrate for your cuttings.
Here are the easy steps for successful Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’ propagation:
- Identify the areas of your plant where you can take some cuttings. It’s best to choose sparse, leggy portions of the mother plant where a bit of pruning can trigger additional growth. The cuttings should be at least six inches long with at least four visible leaf nodes.
- Once you have identified the cuttings you want to harvest, make a diagonal cut with your sterilized shears directly under the leaf node.
- Along with putting on gloves, you may want to cover your workspace with some newspaper to keep it clean. Once the cuts have been made, the cuttings will drip sap, which can irritate your skin or make your work surface sticky. Blot the cuttings with a paper towel until the sap stops flowing. Then, strip off any lower leaves but keep 2-3 leaves attached at the top.
- Dip each cutting in some rooting hormone before them in your container, spacing each one apart by several inches. You can use your own well-draining soil mix or equal parts peat moss and perlite for your substrate. Your cuttings should be planted upright with the leaf nodes submerged under the soil.
- Then, water your cuttings, lightly cover them with a plastic bag, and place the container in a warm, shaded location.
Keep the soil watered until you notice new growth or feel resistance when you tug on the cuttings. This should take about 4-5 weeks. Once you notice your cuttings growing on their own, it’s safe to transplant them to their permanent pots and raise them as independent plants.
The Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’ is vulnerable to common houseplant pests which include aphids, scale, mealybugs, and spider mites. These microscopic insects tend to seek out sheltered areas where they can latch onto plant membranes and suck on sap, such as on the undersides of leaves or in the crevice between a stem and leaf node. Sometimes, you can see the insects with the naked eye. If not, you will know you have an infestation when your cared-for plant looks unwell, or if you notice any webbing or coffee-like residue on the surfaces of your plant.
When you have an infestation, it’s important to address it early on. Otherwise the pests will breed, hatch, and eventually kill your plant before spreading to other plants in your household. First, quarantine your infested plant and clean all affected surfaces with alcohol-soaked cotton daily. As a preventative measure, treat your houseplants monthly with a weak solution of organic neem oil, which acts as an all-natural repellent.
Overwatering your Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’ can cause the roots to “rot” from lack of oxygen. This can also be caused by soil that drains poorly or retains too much water. Early symptoms of overwatering are dull leaf color, mushy stems, and dropped leaves. To avoid root rot entirely, always check the soil before watering and make sure you are using the appropriate substrate and container.
Sunlight is an important ingredient for producing the plant’s dramatic coloring. However, too much direct sunlight will cause the leaves to burn. If your Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’ has yellowing or browning areas on its leaves, especially in the section that faces towards the light, then it’s likely scorched from too much sun. If this happens, simply move your plant further from the light source or consider providing a form of shade.
The Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’ is considered toxic to humans and animals. This is mostly due to the plant’s sap, which naturally contains latex. Latex is a compound that’s found in many everyday products that are considered safe, such as disposable gloves, erasers, and clothing elastic. However, contact with raw latex in plant sap can irritate your skin or trigger mild gastrointestinal issues if ingested.
Fortunately, most healthy individuals will recover if they accidentally touch or swallow the sap of the Ruby Rubber tree. If skin contact occurs, wash thoroughly with soap and water and apply antibiotic ointment to treat any irritation. If any part of the plant has been ingested, you may encounter stomach discomfort, diarrhea, or vomiting, depending on the amount ingested. Always get medical care if symptoms worsen or a large amount is suspected to have been ingested.
While it’s not considered highly toxic, this plant is potentially deadly to individuals with a latex allergy. To keep yourself and your family safe, always monitor young children and pets around any toxic houseplants. Also, make sure you put on gloves before pruning or handling this plant to protect your skin from irritation.
This beautifully variegated tropical plant is a must have for your home! This is a perfect plant to fill large, empty (but remember, they must be bright and sunny to meet the Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’s light requirements!) corners because of the large mature size of the Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’. Enjoy its full color potential by using our care guide’s instructions to provide the finest Ficus elastica ‘Ruby’ care!